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She Has A Note
A lot of discourse these days is wholly unfettered by facts,
divorced from data and released from reality. Citizens should know better, and
our leaders ought to be ashamed of themselves, but my DW has an excuse—she
has a note from her doctor. She truly does not consistently understand, for
example, that her Daddy is not coming by soon to take her home. No, she’s not
being metaphorical about her long-deceased father; she very often sees herself
as about 10 years old. She frequently sulks because none of the other kids in
the neighborhood like her. Yet a moment later she seems quite clear that she is
the proud grandmother of a four month old infant, though sometimes that infant
is, to her, her own child, not her grandchild. The other day, as I held her
hand much like I have done for over forty years, she asked me brightly, “What’s
your name?” Another moment, she looked around the dining room in our retirement
community and remarked, “These are all old people. How’d we get here?” “Well,
hon, it is a retirement community, and we were fortunate enough to be able to
retire younger than some folks”. She didn’t completely buy that. She is not at
all old in her mind.
I am not letting any of this bother me. (Well, the general
public/political lunacy yes, but the particulars with my Dear Wife, no). Unlike
our elected leaders, my wife is not responsible for her illogical statements
and her intermittent grasp of the real world. It saddens me of course, and it
does challenge me to remain mentally flexible. Some days she cruises along fairly
smoothly with clarity as to her immediate time and place surroundings, but
perhaps with banks of mental fog in the distance. Other days, she swerves
suddenly off the Reality Highway and I have to adapt to a sudden shift in the
conversation or in her mood. Sometimes I can manage to gently guide the
conversation back (“Sweetheart, you
know, your Daddy’s always been a Long Island guy, but you and I moved out here
to Michigan now, so he won’t be picking you up” “Oh, yeah” “And out here, we
are now near our daughter and our baby granddaughter. Want to see the latest
picture of the baby?”)
But sometimes, there is no quick slide back into more or
less the real world, and the result can be a bittersweetly fascinating
experience. When she gets going, she can do an amazing stream of consciousness
riff loosely based on stuff from her past. The other day she asked how her
(deceased) sister’s boys were doing. I told her they were both married and
well-employed, and that launched her into a reminiscence of how her sister had
had to raise them essentially single-handedly w. no help from her useless jerk
of a husband (this was true). Then she cheerfully launched into describing how
successful her sister was with all five boys (there were only two) who had to
be repeatedly cajoled about getting out of the house and getting jobs (not so),
and that her sister had to be a strict disciplinarian because all boys are so
useless, yadda yadda and on it went for about half an hour, happily weaving an
epic tale of a heroine she was proud of, using one part fact and about nine
parts extemporaneous fabrication. And I loved and encouraged every minute of
it. She was on a roll and it was making her feel good, and I was not going to
bother her with factual inaccuracies. (There’s a great scene in Animal House when John Belushi is trying
to inspire his fraternity brothers not to give up. He asks “Did we give up when
the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” One frat boy gives another a quizzical look,
“the Germans?” “Let it go” says the other, “he’s on a roll”.)
In fact, I aided and abetted: I reminded her that before her
sister passed, she had said, “If anything happens to me, please make sure
that (the younger boy) finishes school”.
“Yes, I remember that” (Maybe.) I then reminded my wife that after her sister
did pass, she had been in contact with the boy. He’d dropped out of school, but
wife informed him that he was going to register for the next semester and that
he was going to attend the first day of class; if he didn’t, he was going to
have his little old gray haired aunt dragging him by his ear into class the
second day. DW was pleased to recall this (even though my telling of it was a
wee bit of an exaggeration). She was laughing and she riffed on for awhile
longer about how proud sister was of all the many boys, and wife was clearly
happy that she had been able to help out.
I try to be an honest man and I will not lie, cheat or steal or in any
other way harm another. But if I need to enhance a story a bit to bring a laugh
or even a little happiness to my wife, you can bet I will do that any time.
On days when she has been expecting her Daddy to come pick
her up, she also sometimes urges me to be wary of her Mommy. Without the help
of any pharmaceuticals, she can launch into a trip about her (long-departed) but
still-present-to-her Mom who truly was at once a good and a wicked part of her
childhood. Wife starts with some true incidents like Mom’s struggles with manic
depression, and her efforts to make sure that her skinny child ate heartily, and
how much of a picayune pain in the neck she could be, but pretty soon morphs
into things like her Mom taking up with strange men (nope), or her Mom later
trying desperately to get daughter married off (not that neither), and on and
on it goes. I just listen sympathetically
with an occasional “Oh yes?” and “And then?” and “Oh, my” and so on. Yes, of course it saddens me that some
neurons are dying in there and paradoxically letting my wife be even more
creative at storytelling than she ever was before. But again, if letting my
wife have free reign across her somewhat imaginary memory landscape gives her some
therapeutic pleasure, I will be happy to listen all day. I try to steer her
away from cliffs. She started telling about a time when her parents dropped her
off somewhere and expected her to start taking care of herself (a figurative,
not a literal event). She was seeming to get pretty upset about it so I said, “Your
parents did some really shabby things to you sweetheart, but I have always been
impressed by your ability in all sorts of situations, to just cope with
whatever happens, and just get on with what needs to be done. No matter what, you never complain, you never
give up, you never get mad, you just get on with things. It is one of the
things I noticed about you first when I met you and it is one of the many
reasons I still love you so much. And you know, I love you more now than ever.”
Though I wish today’s circumstances were
a bit different, we are still on a journey of love.
I remember our days being much like those you describe. I too found life more pleasant when the journey down the rabbit hole was shared, not combated.
Beautifully written...thanks for the share and the nice memories you brought back.
Well, don’t know if there is a book in the future, but I do
know that writing down my thoughts is therapeutic for me. If others find them
useful, I am happy to share.
This is real life. The timing may be off but it's real life nevertheless.
What a lovely and interesting woman you're wife is Mr T!
Thanks for posting this Mr Toad. Your wife is lucky to have you and if I progress, I pray my wife will be able to physically care for me in the same manner.
Your writing is excellent.
Jim - Im not sure "savoring" this life experience is the right word for their situation.
Had a triangular session the other day---DW and I went to babysit our four-month old granddaughter, our first. DW really enjoys seeing the baby but she does not have the reliable ability to hold the baby securely herself. So I end up doing some dual-direction caregiving. But overall it is great, because there are smiles and giggles all around. And then later it fuels wonderfully embellished tales by DW; "Oh, the baby just loved following you all around the house, talking with you a mile a minute... All the babies did. We had a good time with all those kids...." and on she went, multiplying and advancing the development of the offspring and weaving an even nicer memory than what actually happened. And, as several of you have pointed out, this is real. This is as real as it gets for DW, and experiencing this is very real for me, and I am happy to encourage every pleasant memory, authentic or not.
Even if, on days like that, I get to wipe both tiny and not-so-tiny behinds; a small price to pay.
Why my goodness, I do not think of you as Mr. Toad at all . . . . . I think you were kissed by a lovely princess and are really a prince . . . . at least a knight in shining armor!
I, too, believe that to be true.
Dear Mr. Prince, your writing is beautiful and so heartfelt.